木曜日, 10月 11, 2007

Chasing a better goal

Writing is key to language improvement

This post by Steve 'The Linguist' Kaufmann is interesting to me for a couple of reasons.
word accumulation is a more helpful goal [for new learners, than spoken fluency ]
This, to me, makes a lot of sense. In fact, word accumulation is my biggest barrier to being able to speak well as I very quickly find myself wanting to talk about a subject which my Japanese brain can't express. I can bugger about with the grammar and get my gist over, but without the labels to hand it is worthless.

But another point he makes:
if we have too much output before sufficient input, we risk ingraining wrong patterns in our brain
also rings true for me. I have become accustomed to speaking in casual Japanese at home to the extent that I struggle to remember the polite conjugations - hence the benefit I have had in using the fairly basic Berlitz book. I hear this too in other people - typically those who are better auditory learners than books types, who have picked up their language on working holidays or down the izakaya - one guy who entered my Japanese class a few years ago really struggled with the material we were covering simply because he didn't know the polite form very well, despite being far more capable of sitting and chewing the fat with folk in Japanese.

Moreover, Steve advocates writing as the way to improve:
Learners can write using their newly saved words and submit this for correction. Even a few lines will do
This is of course what he's going to do - he's plugging his product LingQ, but to me it makes sense: one of the most successful students I had, in terms of the pace of her improvement, was a girl who each week wrote just a few lines of diary and we corrected it and chatted over it (I use the word chat loosely, mind you). But the benefit was clear - she quickly moved through from very simple declarative statements to expressing opinions and talking about her weekends, past and future. Slowly, and on a limited range of topics, but moving far quicker than our actual book based study, or other students who only used that route.

So perhaps my goal should be to try and write more and use that as the basis of my language exchange each week.

3 件のコメント:

Tony さんのコメント...

All rings very true with me.

In fact, before I started at Uni (now I just cant be arsed) I used to write a dairy in Japanese, then submit that for checking with my Japanese Teachers at the Eikaiwa School.

Amazing how much it helped... as long as you memorise a few useful lines out of each post. The next time someone asks what you did last weekend, or you want to relay a funny story about something that happened... you can. Just recite the helpful chunks of the diary post and wing the rest!!!

Chris さんのコメント...

Hi Dan,

Without wanting to sound too rig-vedary, I think it's primarily a matter of knowing yourself and also understanding the different learning curves that come with the grammar first vs. vocab first approaches.

I'm a left-brained math junkie, so unsurprisingly when I started learning Japanese all those years ago I fell in love with the grammar of the language first. I loved, and still love, my copy of Martin's "A Reference Grammar of Japanese". There's something deeply beautiful about holding an entire language structure in your hands and thumbing through the bizarrely annotated pages. I'm a geek.

Progress was slow though. Other classmates took a much more instinctive approach to the language, soaking up vocab like sponges. They would wince as I fumbled to stretch words over my perfect grammatical frame while they chatted on. But it came at a price.

A lot of them hit a wall after a while. They'd reached a level where they could communicate, but couldn't quite get over the wall to full fluency without breaking down a lot of the bad habits that had accumulated along the way. And that took time and a big hit to the confidence.

On the other hand I had done my time in the idiot corner and could work at filling in the vocab gaps in what was otherwise pretty sophisticated Japanese.

So in summary, either approach brings with it an ego-bashing. You can either have it sooner or later. The only way to avoid it is to never improve (and I know people who chose that route).

There was one other thing that really helped me. I was interested to see that you were reading Doraemon a few posts ago. My weapon of choice was Shonen Ashibe, a hysterical manga about a boy who finds a baby seal. I'm not sure if it is still around any more.

How did this help?

Firstly it was a 4-panel format with a moderate amount of text. Novels and newspapers are a tough way to learn, because if you lose track half way through then they become a dull slog. Lose track of a 4-panel manga, and you simply move onto the next panel and a new story. And I wanted to keep going.

Secondly it was a good mix of high and low-level Japanese. Doraemon is good for that as well. Crayon Shinchan, not so much (although I did get "jigou jitoku" - you reap what you sow - from there..) The conversations were real (and funny) and I found I could use what I had read actively. Especially when the topic of baby seals came up.

Thirdly (and this was the crux) it taught me how to express myself more along the lines of Japanese thought form. It's easy to convert English into Japanese and be understood, but it's not the same thing as fluency. "Kare ha doko ni itta no ka wakaranai" works fine, but "Kare ha mata yukie fumei" is so much better. Utter chick magnet.

I wrote down all the vocab I didn't know, along with all the cool phraseology. I still have my notebook, several hundred pages of text from the 10 or so issues of Ashibe. And it never once felt like work. Moreover I can still remember, almost to the panel, the vocab. The first word I learnt? "Tenkousei" - a new student/student who moves from school to school. 16 years, and I still remember it like it was yesterday.

Good luck with the studies!

Dan さんのコメント...

Tony - for me, it's the act of writing that makes it stick, far more than passively reading everything (I'm as bad a student know as I ever was when were at school - I still don't make notes)

Chris - It's interesting what you suggest about inside-out or outside-in language learning (neologisms perhaps, let me explain...)

I think I'm, like you, an inside-out learner - we like to pick up the structure and try to understand how everything fits together structurally (like the inside of a building or a person). I've always been quite good at this part of the learning part, or at least comfortable with it.

What I'm really poor at is hearing something and remembering it - I really need to sit down and write things down to remember them. I'm not exposed to enough Japanese here to warrant a notebook on me all the time so I can't soak up the language outside-in as some people do.

But I think (hope) you're right. You plateau either way, when your level reaches a point where more of the same won't help. But as an inside out learner, every new word you absorb will allow you to express yourself and use the structure you have learnt that little bit better. For an outside-in learner, not only do they have to go back and learn bits for the first time, they may even have to unlearn bad habits that they have picked up along the way. And that would surely be much harder still...